Prepping for Winter: Rising Flu Fears, School Protocols, and Vaccination Rollouts

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As winter approaches, families are being encouraged to brace themselves for the impending flu season, amidst parents’ increasing fears that inadequate measures in schools might incite another triple-demic, reminiscent of the epidemic witnessed last year.

The past winter season witnessed an alarming surge of patients in hospitals and intensive care units, grappling with a variety of respiratory ailments, comprising influenza, COVID-19, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

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Alberta’s health minister, Adriana LaGrange, has issued a stern reminder to the public on the importance of strict adherence to established hygiene protocols, particularly as individuals are expected to spend more time indoors. These protocols include regular handwashing, staying home while ill, and respecting those choosing to wear masks.

This comes amidst rapidly escalating sick-leave rates amongst students in some Calgary schools, prompting parents to ramp up efforts to curb the spread of the virus. In fact, reported absences amongst K-12 students in the Calgary Board of Education more than doubled from the beginning of September from 1.7 per cent, reaching 4.6 per cent by Wednesday.

Adriana LaGrange revealed that the new supports being rolled out by the provincial government will consist of additional funding purposed for mental health initiatives. These initiatives are designed to assist students to recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic and resume their normal learning activities.

Recent waste water surveillance data corroborates these claims, reflecting a sudden spike in traces of influenza within Calgary in particular.

A representative of the parent advocacy group Support Our Students, Medeana Moussa, noted that the previous year’s triple-demic and the coronavirus pandemic underscore the exigency of proactive interventions. Moussa highlighted the investment neglect from the Alberta government, particularly in reducing class sizes. She remarked that improving these conditions is logical preventive measure towards reducing the impact on both students’ and teachers’ health.

Moussa also called for government interventions to enhance school ventilation systems and urged for transparency regarding air quality monitoring and publication.

In response, the Calgary Board of Education revealed that they have already installed MERV 13 filters in some schools and intend to replace them more frequently. Furthermore, the spokesman confirmed that their schools have mechanical ventilation systems designed to optimize air exchange.

Likewise, the Calgary Catholic School Division confirmed their adherence to, and surpassing of, provincial ventilation and building code stipulations.

The Alberta government has announced the launch of a respiratory illnesses reporting dashboard in the forthcoming weeks. This tool will provide an insight into the prevalence of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV cases in the state.

The most recent statistics reveal that from August 28 onwards, there have been 28 cases of influenza and five lab-confirmed RSV cases. In contrast, 559 COVID-19 cases were reported between August 28 and September 8, which resulted in 92 hospitalizations, including three in the ICU. As of September 8, 417 people are currently in hospitals, with seven in the ICU.

Albertans can access influenza and COVID-19 vaccines from October 16 onwards.